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How Can We Improve American Science Education?

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Engineering Dissection


Sometimes, I think the first question on a college engineering entrance exam should be: What household appliance have you attempted to repair recently? Too much science education is aimed at teaching about science, but the appeal is really found in doing things and figuring things out. Scientists and engineers learn mathematics because they need to know how to calculate the necessary capacity of a power supply, or how much gunpowder will be enough for a given result. They don't necessarily like the math itself. Similarly, a biologist should have kept frogs, bugs or plants in their bedroom as a child.

Not every parent is tolerant of such things. Schools would do well to have a science classroom filled with broken VCRs and DVD players. Let the kids take them apart, knowing that they will need to report in detail what they discovered about how these machines work. They can formulate hypotheses and design experiments to test them.

In such a class, some kid will wonder why the lens of a CD player is suspended in air by a set of magnets. They may guess that the wire coils can be used to make fine adjustments of the lens position using magnetic repulsion. A satisfying insight like that can lead to a life of science.

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